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Savannah Area Enjoys Economic Boost from Film Industry

Category: Hospitality & Tourism

Savannah’s hospitality leaders gathered at the Crab Shack Sept. 17 to toast the area’s reemergence as a motion-picture venue and the boost Hollywood is giving its struggling economy.

With the wrap of Disney’s “The Last Song” in late summer, the Savannah area received a direct economic impact of $5 million to $6 million and can expect a similar boost from Robert Redford’s “The Conspirator,” said Jay Self, director of the Savannah Tourism & Film Services Department.

Self, guest speaker the Savannah Tourism Leadership Council’s Sept. 17 luncheon meeting, said The Last Song accounted for about $19 million in spending statewide. About $10 million of that was paid out in the Savannah area, though Self said it’s difficult to gauge how much of the $10 million stayed here.

Hence, the direct economic impact is probably in the $5 million to $6 million range, he said.

Look for an even larger and longer economic punch from the additional visitors release of “The Last Song” will bring, especially since the author of the book on which the film is based, Nicholas Sparks, allowed producers to change the story’s setting from Wilmington-Wrightsville Beach, N.C., to Savannah-Tybee, said Mark Dana, Savannah hotel executive and president of the Tourism Leadership Council.

“The thing I think is most important is that when the movie leaves town, it’s Savannah on the screen. It entices new visitors,” Dana said in an interview.
Disney has not set a final release date for the teen genre film starring Miley Cyrus of Hanna Montana fame but the latest industry news is that the opening will be Easter weekend in April 2010, according to Self, who is talking to the producers about having a premiere screening in Savannah.

The filming is over, but Self is still looking back fondly on Savannah’s wresting the feature production from North Carolina film recruiters. “It was great to steal one from Wilmington, N.C. They have been stealing from us for a long time.”

Savannah’s victory came through a new set of financial incentives established last year. The enticements helped Georgia land back on Hollywood’s radar after a several-year absence during which states such as Louisiana, New Mexico and Michigan began attracting feature-film productions with generous cash offers. Georgia’s main lures are a 20 percent transferable tax credit and an additional 10 percent credit for giving the state a promotional plug or displaying an animated Georgia promotional logo within the finished product.

Further, producers get a sales tax exemption of up to 8 percent on items and materials bought for use in a production.

The incentvies program also offers credits for commercials and music videos, as well as the first incentive in the nation to cover other areas of development including animation, interactive entertainment and video game development.

Film companies “follow the money,” said Self, whose office helps recruit the productions and works to ensure filming goes smoothly without interfering too much with daily life in Savannah. The efforts of state Sen. Eric Johnson, state Rep. Ron Stephens and other lawmakers led to adoption of an incentive package that is sustainable, Self said. “It will be here a long time.”

The staying power comes from its revenue neutral nature, Self explained. In this instance, it is tax breaks going to companies that would not otherwise be in Georgia spending money, he said.

The executive producer of “The Conspirator” cited the importance of the tax credits at a Sept. 18 meeting of the Savannah Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, said Dana, the Tourism Leadership Conference’s leader. “The incentives are very important to them,” he said, noting the pressure producers are under to keep costs down..
Making Savannah more economically appetizing at least gets the film companies to come take a look, Dana noted.

Georgia economic development officials said nine feature films, two television series and one television pilot were produced in Georgia in the first quarter of 2009. A Sony Pictures produced television series began production in Georgia in April.

Savannah would be chalking up its fifth feature film of the year had three productions not fizzled out, according to Self.
These were “Counterfeit Son,” “A Little Help” and “Band of Angels.”

A “Little Help” committed to Savannah but after a delayed start relocated the production to Long Island, N.Y., Self said.

“Counterfeit Son” is in a restart that includes a pending new decision on a shooting location, he added.

“A Band of Angels” lost its equity funding, a circumstance occurring with some frequency in this recession, Self said.

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